By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Facing a costly and damaging two-season ban from European football, English champions Manchester City will now turn to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in an appeal that is likely to focus heavily on procedure.
The Premier League club’s key players on the pitch may be the likes of Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, but off it their line-up of British and Swiss lawyers will also be in focus as they fight to get the ban overturned.
European soccer’s governing body UEFA said on Friday the club had committed “serious breaches” of its Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations by “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to UEFA between 2012 and 2016.”
UEFA will also issue a 30 million euro ($32.5 million) fine to City, who it said had “failed to cooperate in the investigation”, possibly contributing to the harshness of its punishment.
City said within minutes of UEFA’s announcement that they will appeal.
The FFP regulations are designed to stop clubs running up big losses through spending on players and ensure that sponsorship deals are based on real market value and are genuine commercial deals – and not ways for owners to pump cash into a club to get around the rules.
UEFA opened an investigation into City last March after the publication of ‘Football Leaks’ documents led to allegations that the club’s Abu Dhabi owners had inflated sponsorship agreements to comply with the FFP requirements.
The leaked documents included club emails which referred to money being “routed” through sponsors. Reuters was unable to verify if such payments were made. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/soccer-files-fairplay-mancity
City’s response to media reports at the time gave an early indication of the approach they may take at CAS in Lausanne.
“We will not be providing any comment on out of context materials purported to have been hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people. The attempt to damage the Club’s reputation is organized and clear,” it said.
As well as questioning the nature of the documents, City have been unhappy at the way in which UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) conducted the investigation.
In a statement on Friday, the club referred to the “flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process”.
“Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA,” it said.
ATTEMPT TO HALT PROBE
City had turned to CAS in November to try to have the probe halted, arguing that the CFCB’s decision to refer the case to its Adjudicatory Chamber was taken “improperly and prematurely”.
The club’s legal team argued that what it viewed as leaks from UEFA to the media about the investigation showed “UEFA has systematically breached, and continues to breach, its duty of confidence” in the case.
It also called for UEFA to conduct an inquiry into the alleged leaks.
Although CAS rejected that appeal saying “internal remedies” had not been exhausted, it did express concern in its written judgment about the leaks.
Now that the verdict has been handed out and CAS becomes the arena for an appeal, City may well return to these procedural matters as part of their strategy.
At the CAS hearing, City were represented by Monckton Chambers as well as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London and Kellerhals Carrard in Lugano, Switzerland.
The club may be pinning their hopes for getting the UEFA ban overturned or greatly reduced on previous FFP cases.
Paris St Germain faced a UEFA investigation over its own FFP declarations and faced no punishment, while AC Milan received a one-year ban – half of City’s sanction.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Hugh Lawson)